New York’s New Municipal ID Draws Criticism

By Aura Bogado Jul 11, 2014

Starting in January 2015, New York City residents will be eligible to apply for municipal identification cards. Similar measures have been met with success in New Haven, Conn., as well as several California cities. The New York City Identity Card is intended to provide a basic credential for some of the most marginalized people in the Big Apple. At a signing ceremony for the ID bill Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the card’s potential beneficiaries: 

I want to emphasize this card is important for all New Yorkers. It is important for all of us to have a better city. Even for those who already have ID, we’re going to make sure that this card brings a lot to the equation, a lot of benefits that will go with it. But for those who don’t have ID, it’s going to be crucial. And that includes a lot of people – I mentioned almost half a million undocumented immigrants. That’s the size of a lot of major American cities in terms of total population – half a million of our fellow New Yorkers. What about adults re-entering society after incarceration? They need extra opportunities this ID will help. Young people in foster care. Transgender people. For the very first time, transgender people will be able to choose their gender marker on their ID, and that’s an important opportunity.

Opening a bank account or leasing an apartment is virtually impossible without ID and the city says it’s working with banks and credit unions to accept the card. But there are also federal regulations that need to be met in order to open an account, and it’s not yet clear whether the New York City Identity Card will be sufficient to meet those requirements.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) doesn’t back the new ID card. While the organization supported a previous version of the bill, it cites major problems with the final version signed yesterday. NYCLU’s advocacy director Johanna Miller released a statement outlining concerns:

Unfortunately, the bill that is before the mayor [Thursday] also provides for the city to copy and store people’s most sensitive documentation, like pay stubs, social security numbers, and even their children’s educational records. In this bill, the city has not done enough to protect those documents from being used by law enforcement. The NYPD, FBI, DHS and others can request these documents without having to show probable cause. And if they are requested, the city has no obligation to even notify the person so they might be able to defend their own privacy. For these reasons, the NYCLU regretfully cannot support this legislation.

The city ID will be available free of charge in its first year and can be obtained through enrollment centers in various municipal institutions starting in January.